On the road: Stephen Strasburg comes to Cleveland

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Strasburg pitches.JPGWhen I first realized that Stephen Strasburg was going to make his second start in beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio, my first thought was: I should get me some tickets. About an hour after that first thought, I got an email from Rob Campbell, future Cleveland Indians GM, inviting me to sit in the Tribe Social Deck for the game. Hmmm, free tickets or no free tickets, what should I do . . . I’m pretty sure I responded to Rob in approximately 4.2 seconds.

As Drew noted yesterday Strasburg was still throwing serious heat and, even if it wasn’t nearly as good as his debut, he didn’t exactly do anything to shake the planet’s confidence in the young man.  I personally enjoyed the hell of the game. Random observations after the jump . . .


I got to Cleveland just before noon after a mostly uneventful drive from Columbus. Sadly, Grandpa’s Cheese Barn (located in Ashland, Ohio, which is seriously billed as “The World Headquarters of Nice People”) was closed. Instead I had to stop at the Goasis travel plaza. The place is absolutely redonkulous. It has a Pizza Hut Express, a Popeyes, a Taco Bell, a Starbucks and a convenience store that is larger than pre-1980s grocery stores. The Goasis is everything that is both so very, very wrong and so very, very right about America. I got a bean burrito and a bottle of water (the bean burrito was the wrong part, but I had one or two cocktails too many on Saturday night, so it was very, very necessary.

Last month when I came to Cleveland for a game the garage I like to park in on Huron Street was charging $10. Yesterday it was $15. The Strasburg Effect is apparently limitless.

Lots of Stephen Strasburg shirts on the plaza between Quicken Arena and the ballpark. I’m sure they weren’t all worn by people who drove up from Washington, so you figure there’s a lot of people caught up in the hysteria. My first thought when I saw them all was whether people would have been snapping up David Clyde shirts back in 1973. Yeah, you and I know Strasburg is a different brand of pitcher than Clyde was, but I kinda doubt a lot of the people in the shirts would have been able to explain the difference. On some level hype trumps everything.

You pick up Social Deck tickets at the Gate B will call. Which is the only will call window at the ballpark.  When I got there, I was greeted by quite a line:
will call line.JPGAnd it stretched way back from what you could see in the pic. Not the smoothest operation, most likely because the Indians forgot what it was like to have a near full house at the joint.  Confession: the “S-T” line was much shorter than the “A-J” line, so I hopped in it, figuring I’d play dumb and say “Social Deck” when I got to the window, even though I knew full well that they had the tickets reserved by last name. The guy at the window just looked at me like I was a piece of garbage and he was right to do so. Still, he got me my tickets because this is the Midwest and we tend to do the weary, put-upon, silently-think-less-of-you thing better than we do open hostility.

Oh, one other will call thing: I overheard the guys behind me in line — a couple of early twenty somethings who could have been athletes — and based on their conversation it was obvious that Strasburg had left them tickets. “They’d better be under his name and not ours, dude, because I’m not waiting in that other line.”

Walking around the concourse for a bit I talked to a middle aged couple wearing Nats jerseys. I asked them if they came here from D.C. They said they were from Strongsville (a Cleveland suburb), and that they were the only Nats fans they knew in Ohio. I asked them how they became Nats fans and the guy said that he worked in Montreal for a while about 15 years ago and got hooked on the Expos, so he just followed them over. I had no idea that any old Expos fans made the jump like that.

Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe and Beyond the Box Score showed up to the Deck with his brother. He had his own will call story: as he was waiting in line he saw the new Cleveland Browns’ QB Colt McCoy being let in the media gate. Paul: “If he’s six feet tall then so am I.” note: Paul is not six feet tall. Good luck Browns fans!  By the way, Paul is just about the best Indians blogger out there, so definitely check him out.

David Huff got the start for the Tribe. His warmup music is “God’s gonna cut you down” by Johnny Cash. I can’t think of a pitcher who deserves that song less than David Huff, but I’m glad to see that his weekly shellackings aren’t affecting his confidence.

When I saw Aroldis Chapman a couple of weeks ago it took him an inning or two to loosen things up and get to the high 90s. Strasburg was there right out of the gate, hitting 99 on his first pitch and then 100 within just a couple. There was an audible “oooh” in Progressive Field when he started bringing that stuff. His windup and motion seems way too easy to be throwing that hard. I’m pretty sure if he took his shirt off it would reveal that he’s powered by an arc generator.

Social Deck.JPGCool thing about the Social Deck: there’s a little flat screen TV right there. Even better: the HD broadcast is on, like, a five second delay, so it was like having instant replay for every pitch. This was absolutely indispensable in figuring out how Strasburg was doing. Even more indispensable for the play in which Adam Dunn barreled Carlos Santana over. Everyone in the crowd was watching the ball go down the right field line and missed the collision the first time. Having the replay of it while in the park rocked.

Travis Hafner hit a homer off Strasburg in the second inning. The ball was down and in and he just golfed it. When he did it, Cousineau and I assumed he guessed at it. After the game Hafner admitted that with this kid you just have to assume the fastball and hope for the best.

A drunk guy in the bleachers behind us was taunting Josh Willingham, who got the start in left field for the Nats. “Hey 1-6!! You suck!!”  Who the hell taunts Josh Willingham? I hate people sometimes.

For all of Strasburg’s great pitches, one was notable by its near absence: the changeup. He threw his heat and he threw tons of mow-to-mid 80s curves, but there were hardly any of those low-90s changeups he featured in his debut. Maybe a few of what I’m calling curves were changeups, but if they were they were much different than before. Did someone tell him to slow it down, or did he just not have the feel for it yesterday?

Browns’ receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs was at the ballpark. When they put him on the jumbotron he got the loudest cheer of the game. It’s been forgotten since the Bernie Kosar days, but Cleveland will always be a Browns town before anything else.

It was widely reported after the game, but Strasburg’s issues with the mound were fairly entertaining. After the fact it became clear that he had a legitimate beef with the condition of the mound, but in the park at the time it wasn’t clear (neither Huff nor any of the relievers, righties or lefties, had any apparent issues).  The boos he got were because everyone thought he was being a prima donna. I think he might have been frustrated that he wasn’t getting borderline calls on the corner either, but no matter how big a wheel he is he’s still a rookie, so he had best get used to that.

I figured that the place would empty out once Strasburg was pulled, but they hung around to watch Drew Storen, who was pretty impressive in his own right, get out of the bases loaded jam in the sixth.  A lot of folks streamed out of there once the sixth ended. In all, there was 32,800 at the game, which is about double what the team could usually expect for a Sunday tilt with the Nats.  The loss sucked for the Tribe, but the money is a nice consolation prize.

All in all a nice day at the Jake. Baseball cold beers, hot sun and the Second Coming of Christ on the mound.  Beats running through the sprinkler, doesn’t it?

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 11, Nationals 5: The Mets were down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth and all they did was put up a nine-spot. The damage: a two-run Todd Frazier single, a two-run Juan Lagares double, a bases-loaded walk to Michael Conforto and then a grand freakin’ slam by Yoenis Cespedes. Ryan Madson was the most victimized in terms of runs allowed that frame with six, Sammy Solis put two on with walks, one which forced in the run, and both of the guys he walked scored, and  A.J. Cole gave up the salami. Anyone get the number of the bus that hit the Nats?

Athletics 12, White Sox 11: Who doesn’t want to watch nearly six hours of the White Sox and Athletics? At least this one was kinda exciting, with the A’s trailing 6-1, 9-4 and 10-8, before taking the lead and then giving up a tying run in the ninth before Matt Olson singled in Marcus Semien with two outs in the 14th for the win. There were 33 hits and 18 walks in this game, issued by 18 — EIGHTEEN — pitchers. James freakin’ Shields got the loss, pitching in relief. A total of 556 pitches were thrown. Lost in this was Yoan Moncada hitting his first career grand slam, scoring three times and driving in four, Olson finishing with four hits and three RBI, and Jed Lowrie driving in three. This wasn’t baseball. It was test cricket. They were stopping for tea on the field and should’ve broken the thing up over three or four days.

Braves 7, Phillies 3: One of the reasons the Braves signed Jose Bautista to play third base yesterday was the seemingly reasonable belief that Ryan Flaherty‘s hot start to the season is not sustainable. Perhaps he took some personal umbrage at that because last night he drove in four, three of which came on a three-run homer that put the Braves up 3-1 in the fifth and the fourth of which came via an RBI single to extend their lead in the eighth. Dansby Swanson homered, backing Brandon McCarthy‘s one-run ball into the sixth.

Twins 2, Indians 1: When you’re playing on backup generators you probably want to conserve energy, but hey, sometimes games go 16 innings and you need to keep the lights on for five hours and thirteen minutes of play. That’s baseball. Jose Berrios and Carlos Carrasco dueled for seven scoreless innings and the teams’ relief corps fired bullets for six more before each team broke through for a single run in the fourteenth. Two innings later the Twins got to Josh Tomlin, a starter pressed into service, with an Eddie Rosario single, a Jason Kipnis error that allowed the runner to make it to third and and then a walkoff single from Ryan LaMarre, scoring Rosario. Following Francisco Lindor‘s homer on Tuesday night, Rosario getting to celebrate the winning run made it a couple of great games for Puerto Rico natives.

Pirates 10, Rockies 2Josh Bell drove in three runs and the Pirates rattled off 13 hits in all. The Rockies are last in the NL in hitting. Which is totally what you expect from the Rockies, right?

Tigers 6, Orioles 5: Machado hit a walkoff homer to win a game in which the Orioles played. Unfortunately for O’s fans it was Dixon, not Manny, and Dixon plays for Detroit. That came after a wild eighth and ninth, in which each team scored three and Luis Sardinas tied it with a solo shot off Shane Greene before Machado’s heroics. Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario and John Hicks also homered for Detroit. The O’s have lost five straight.

Rays 4, Rangers 2: Jake Faria allowed one run over six innings to get his first win since last July and the Rays rode a three-run sixth inning, powered by Daniel Robertson’s RBI double, C.J Cron’s RBI single and an Adeiny Hechavarria‘s sacrifice to victory. Play of the game, though, came from this Rays fan, who reached over the railing to grab a ball, interfering with a ball in play, and then reached into his pocket to throw back a different ball:

I’m struggling to think of what, exactly, his plan was when coming to the ballpark yesterday. Did he think he’d catch some historic ball in a rando Wednesday Rangers-Rays game and had the decoy to throw off the people he expected to mob him? What was going on in this dude’s head? Either way, the play was called a double due to fan interference and the fan was moved to a different section and given a warning. To be fair, it probably would’ve been a double anyway. He now has a super valuable, I’m sure *looks at the box score* Renato Nunez ball to call his own. He can probably retire off of that bit of swag now. Or something.

Brewers 2, Reds 0: Zach Davies tossed six and a third three-hit shutout innings and Eric Thames hit a two-run homer for all of the game’s scoring. Thames has abused the Reds recently, having hit a two-run shot off of them the day before. He has 58 homers in his career. Eleven of those have come against Cincinnati. He didn’t have the play of the day, though. Christian Yelich did, snagging a ball that first hit off of Hernan Perez‘s glove:

 

Blue Jays 15, Royals 5: Teoscar Hernandez had four hits, including a two-run home run, finishing a double short of the cycle and Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam and the Jays swept the Royals and sent them to their eighth straight defeat. Toronto, meanwhile, is off to its best start since 2009.

Giants 4, Diamondbacks 3: Arizona came back from a 2-0 deficit in the eighth and ninth to force extras but Brandon Belt‘s two-run homer — his 100th career dong — broke the tie in the tenth and the Giants held on to break their four-game winning streak.

Red Sox 9, Angels 0: Boston continues its scorching hot start, moving to 15-2 on the season. Rick Porcello continues his own personal hot start, moving to 4-0 and dropping his ERA to 1.40 with six shutout innings. Mitch Moreland and Rafael Devers each drove in four, Devers via a grand slam and Moreland via two RBI singles and a homer of his own. J.D. Martinez went 4-for-5 and knocked one over the fence as well. The Angels, who came into this series pretty hot themselves, have been outscored 19-1 through the first two games of the series.

Astros 7, Mariners 1: Gerrit Cole allowed only an unearned run in seven innings of work and the Astros’ bats woke up with a six-run seventh inning. George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez each drove in a couple, Carlos Correa and Brian McCann each knocked in a run and the seventh scored on an error.

Dodgers 13, Padres 4: The Dodgers sweep the Padres behind a ten strikeout night from Kenta Maeda and a shellacking of Padres starter Luis Perdomo. Corey Seager went 4-for-5 with three driven in. Max Muncy, who I am not convinced is an actual baseball player as opposed to a character played by, I dunno, Peter Falk in a light Neil Simon-esque comedy from the 1970s, hit a homer.

Cardinals vs. Cubs — POSTPONED:

In the twilight glow I see them
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain
When we kissed goodbye and parted
I knew we’d never meet again
Love is like a dyin’ ember
Only memories remain
Through the ages I’ll remember
Blue eyes cryin’ in the rain